Paying the Toll

Paying the Toll: Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge

Louise Nelson Dyble
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Paying the Toll
    Book Description:

    Since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has become an icon for the beauty and prosperity of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a symbol of engineering achievement. Constructing the bridge posed political and financial challenges that were at least as difficult as those faced by the project's builders. To meet these challenges, northern California boosters created a new kind of agency: an autonomous, self-financing special district. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District developed into a powerful organization that shaped the politics and government of the Bay Area as much as the bridge shaped its physical development. From the moment of the bridge district's incorporation in 1928, its managers pursued their own agenda. They used all the resources at their disposal to preserve their control over the bridge, cultivating political allies, influencing regional policy, and developing an ambitious public relations program. Undaunted by charges of mismanagement and persistent efforts to turn the bridge (as well as its lucrative tolls) over to the state, the bridge district expanded into mass transportation, taking on ferry and bus operations to ensure its survival to this day. Drawing on previously unavailable archives, Paying the Toll gives us an inside view of the world of high-stakes development, cronyism, and bureaucratic power politics that have surrounded the Golden Gate Bridge since its inception.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0688-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: ʺAgency Run Amokʺ
    (pp. 1-10)

    An architectural masterpiece, the Golden Gate Bridge instantly evokes the natural beauty of northern California and the cosmopolitan pleasures of San Francisco. Tourists from around the world marvel at the scale of the graceful structure, the vision of the architects and engineers who designed it, and the bravery of the workers who built it. For generations, its towers have beckoned weekend adventurers to cross the mile-long span; ominously, its low railings have also lured the despondent, suggesting an easy way to end it all. But for the commuters whose cars crowd onto its narrow roadway every workday morning and evening,...

  4. Chapter 1 A Bridge to Prosperity
    (pp. 11-45)

    Bridging the Golden Gate, the narrow opening of the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, was a daring proposal in 1923, and the challenge of financing a bridge was as daunting as its engineering. On January 13, more than two hundred men, most representing northern California government, civic, or business groups, crowded into the assembly room of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, determined to take on that challenge. They had been called together by the chamber president Frank P. Doyle, the president and majority shareholder of Sonoma’s largest bank and a founding member of the Redwood Highway Association.¹...

  5. Chapter 2 A District Divided
    (pp. 46-72)

    On February 26, 1933, an unruly crowd of 100,000 descended upon Crissy field in San Francisco to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the Golden Gate Bridge. Police struggled to clear enough space for the bridge district president W. P. Filmer, chief engineer Joseph B. Strauss, and San Francisco Mayor Angelo J. Rossi to turn a shovelful of earth with a special golden spade. Other ceremonies were cancelled because of the unexpected throng, and a scale model of the bridge on display was badly damaged by the crush of people. Still, a grand parade managed to wind its way slowly around...

  6. Chapter 3 The District and Its Enemies
    (pp. 73-99)

    On April 27, 1937, the final rivet was driven into the Golden Gate Bridge—twice. The first attempt involved a sixteen-ounce rivet fashioned from “almost 100 per cent pure gold” donated for the purpose by the vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce. Too soft and short for the task, the precious metal disintegrated under pressure, showering spectators with gold dust, breaking apart, and falling into the water below. A nimble bystander caught one two-ounce chunk. After the crowd dispersed, a steel rivet was secured in the gap. The incident foreshadowed decades of remarkable prosperity, marred by bungling, incompetence,...

  7. Chapter 4 The Defeat of the Golden Gate Authority
    (pp. 100-124)

    In 1958, Jack McCarthy announced plans for a Golden Gate Authority. According to the ambitious young state senator from Marin County, the creation of this new public agency would solve Bay Area transportation problems, provide for growth and development, and establish the foundation for general regional planning. Intended to transform the region by transforming its government, the authority would consolidate responsibility for transportation policy at the metropolitan level. Industrialist Edgar F. Kaiser and members of the Bay Area Council, a civic association that represented the region’s most powerful businesses, backed the proposal. They believed that the authority, which was based...

  8. Chapter 5 Rapid Transit Versus the Golden Gate Bridge
    (pp. 125-148)

    Until 1962, there was every reason to expect that Marin County would be included in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Plans for the regional rail system released both in 1953 and in 1956 included a line extending across the bay to the north via the Golden Gate Bridge, to be built during the first stage of construction. Engineering studies confirmed the feasibility of adding rails to the bridge. Marin County civic and business leaders enthusiastically supported bringing BART to the North Bay, anticipating a windfall of development, increased property values, and general economic growth. Local politicians applauded Jack...

  9. Chapter 6 James Adam, Boss of the Golden Gate Bridge
    (pp. 149-170)

    After its officials waged successful campaigns against the Golden Gate Authority and the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District descended into the worst period of scandal and public antipathy in its history. While bridge district policies continued to generate controversy in the late 1950s, it was the questionable accounting, expenses, and administrative practices of its management that tarnished the agency’s reputation the most. Accusers laid the blame on the bridge district’s most unpopular general manager, James Adam, who was appointed to the position in 1954. Irascible and authoritarian, Adam maintained nearly absolute control over...

  10. Chapter 7 Regionalism, Transportation, and Perpetual Tolls
    (pp. 171-202)

    At the end of the 1960s, the abolition of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District seemed imminent. The agency descended into disrepute under the leadership of James Adam, and its construction bonds, its raison d’être, would be retired in 1971. No longer would its leaders be able to use legal obligations to bondholders as a shield against their critics. Nevertheless, defying increased pressure for reform or dissolution, the agency underwent a dramatic rebirth, its operations expanded to include mass transportation. This apparent paradox—that the bridge district took on new obligations and thereby guaranteed its perpetuation just as its...

  11. Conclusion: Subsidies, Suicides, and Sensitivity
    (pp. 203-214)

    From the moment of its incorporation in 1928, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District had the autonomy and resources to effectively pursue an agenda independent of outside political, social, or economic interest groups. Over time, the bridge district developed a compelling culture that shaped the goals and priorities of its officials and determined what they considered to be appropriate action on its behalf. Bridge district representatives engaged in battles to defend the agency’s autonomy, and even its very existence, starting with the campaign for construction bond approval in 1930 and continuing through its move into mass transportation in 1969....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-276)
  13. Index
    (pp. 277-292)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 293-296)